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The History of wikiHow in 7 Fascinating wikiHow Articles

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wikiHow

Spend enough time looking stuff up on the Internet, and you’ll eventually run into the weird, fascinating, addictive, and surprisingly poignant world known as wikiHow. Want to know How to Be Sophisticated, Become a Writer, Survive in Federal Prison, Make the Letters of the English Alphabet, Kiss, or Get Six Pack Abs? Here is a place where a wondrous amalgam of human experience can show you the way. You may, in fact, be asked to share your own expertise in, say, dating, grilling zucchini, annoying your brother, or seizing opportunities, to name a few. It may be inevitable that you’ll be sucked in still further by hitting the “random article” button and find yourself learning How to Become a Musician, Survive a Long Fall, Concentrate on Studies, Make Candelabras from Old Bottles, or Treat a Migraine.

Tech entrepreneur Jack Herrick launched the site ten years ago after selling his previous venture, eHow. He had a clear mission—to “help anyone on the planet learn how to do anything”—which he decided couldn’t be achieved through content farming. Instead, he launched the wiki site, allowing for as many volunteers as possible to share their hard-won experiential knowledge. Now, the site has more than a million users, 183,000 articles, and 22 paid staffers. (The most thorough articles might have dozens or hundreds of “co-authors.”) It has turned down multiple venture capital offers in order to stay focused on its mission, instead making its profits mostly from Google ads and by remaining headquartered in a house in Palo Alto, California. 

In honor of its decade anniversary, here’s a look at wikiHow’s history, told through seven of its biggest, best, strangest, and most useful posts.

1. How to Climb the Stairs with a Broken Leg

Matt Garcia may be only 19, but he’s had plenty of life experiences to share via wikiHow articles. The 21 articles started by the Canadian biology student include this very specific set of instructions, which he wrote while recovering from surgery. He has a heart condition and ended up on life support after having a heart attack in his mid-teens. One of the tubes required for the machines caused nerve damage to his left leg, putting him in a cast and on crutches. “It did feel really good to share that knowledge,” Garcia says.

In fact, many posts come out of users’ real-life experiences. One of community manager Krystle Chung’s favorite articles tackles How to Toilet Train Your Cat: “The part that I get a kick out of is one of the tips is, ‘Do not teach your cat to flush.’ It turns out your cat will flush all day long. You couldn’t hire someone to research that tip. Somebody actually found out the hard way.”

2. How to Love

The home improvement, cooking, and health articles make sense: They are clear processes with specific steps or problems with straightforward solutions. But some of  wikiHow’s most popular posts might as well be titled How to Be Human: They address kissing, getting a girl to like you, getting over a breakup, and knowing if a guy likes you, among other emotional topics. If only a computer could spit out answers to all of life’s dilemmas, right? Maybe it can’t exactly do that, but it can at least help. “It’s almost as if you have a friend to talk to when you read these,” says wikiHow COO Elizabeth Douglas. “Wikipedia is all factual information, things that are true or false. You don’t find the depth and the breadth and the empathy and the understanding of humans there. wikiHow is about people sharing their experience with others.”

3. How to Help a Spouse With Depression

Nicole Willson, a 33-year-old in Portland, Oregon, has been active on wikiHow since its earliest days, attracted to the idea because of her master’s degree in library science. And though she’s started more than 100 articles, her research standards and expertise make her even better at improving others’ work. When she first encountered the post on helping a spouse with depression, for example, it included tips about taking your partner out for a nice dinner. “If someone is chronically depressed,” she says, “that’s not going to help.” With her edits and others’, it’s become a thorough guide with an eye toward legitimate mental health resources.

In another article, about how to treat a common cold, she spotted a recommendation to get a Slurpee from 7-Eleven. “In those cases, I look for reliable sources for information to add,” she says. “It’s about information literacy. You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.”

Of course, that’s exactly why wikiHow—or any wiki—engenders skepticism. The site does have rules about what kinds of topics can be posted (in short, nothing that can cause harm) and has hundreds of volunteers as well as a few paid staffers reviewing every post. But Willson is also proof that the system mostly works: Some users might have good ideas for posts, even if they don’t have the knowledge to back them up. Others can come along and add their knowledge. As contributor Betsy Megas says, “The fastest way to a good page is a bad page.” 

4. How to Make Jello Shots

Willson has also used her research skills for less healthy topics, like contributing to wikiHow’s vast Jello Shot oeuvre. (Besides this introductory article that Willson started, there are also separate entries on specific kinds of Jello shots, from those including caffeine to various flavors to theme-party ideas.) “That’s what I like about wikiHow,” she says. “You’re not going to see this stuff in Martha Stewart Living. You don’t have to just do articles around what gets you ads.”

Maybe Martha Stewart and her ilk should reconsider, though, given the readership such entries attract. “It’s fun to see how the traffic changes as days and weeks go on,” Herrick says. “On New Year’s Eve you see How to Make Jello Shots spike, then like clockwork the next morning it’s How to Get Rid of a Hangover.” 

5. How to Sew a Cloth Baseball

Lois Wade made her first edit as a registered wikiHow user in 2007 and soon found herself relying on the site for what she calls her “frugal-to-a-fault” lifestyle. (Not surprisingly, she makes her living as a bookkeeper, based in Rancho Cordova, Calif.) She helped her teenaged son make a duct-tape wallet using wikiHow instructions, then started writing on the site herself with How to Sew a Cloth Baseball. (Her son wanted a pin cushion for home ec class that wasn’t that standard tomato-with-attached-strawberry.) Since then, she’s started more than 200 articles, including How to Make a Kitchen Towel Angel and How to Design and Sew Cold Weather Mitts for Drop Handlebars. “It’s dumbfounding,” she says of the online feedback she’s gotten. “If I advertised in my home area, ‘Come Learn How to Make a Towel Angel,’ I might, if I were lucky, get 10 or 15 people to come over. But on wikiHow, I’ve got millions.” That’s all the motivation she and many others like her need: “I just like helping people. I don’t watch a lot of TV. This is my entertainment, and I don’t have to wait for this show to come on.”

6. How to Escape from a Sinking Car

“It’s one of those things where you’d think it’s a joke article,” Herrick says, “but it turns out this actually happens pretty frequently.” About 400 people die this way every year, and it’s a particular problem in Canada, where 10 percent of drowning deaths happen in vehicles. “We get a lot of people writing and saying that reading about what to do in this situation eases their anxiety,” he says.

These response-to-emergencies articles have demonstrated real results: wikiHow staff knows of at least two babies who have been delivered using wikiHow instructions, and one person who got critical medical attention thanks to How to Recognize the Warning Signs of a Stroke. Such articles have prompted wikiHow to invest in careful translation of the site into 12 other languages. How to Recognize the Symptoms of Appendicitis, for example, is particularly popular in Spanish.

7. How to Change the Oil in Your Car

Megyas, a mechanical engineer in Santa Clara, California, has started lots of practical articles, tackling everything from fixing a running toilet to couch-surfing. Despite the seemingly straightforward nature of such topics, she’s encountered a surprising number of heated debates among contributors: When she edited an article on How to Change the Oil in Your Car, for instance, she found out “how many people have strong opinions about how long you should let the oil drip out.” All of the frequent users have encountered clashes with others over article edits, but also say wikiHow is known for its sanguine approach to “edit wars.” The company’s leaders have worked to instill a culture of niceness—which emphasizes positive feedback and personal contact—that frequent users cite as the reason they’ve contributed so much. “We are nice to our community members,” Douglas says, “and we encourage them to be nice.” They even hold yearly gatherings for the active contributors, and the frequent users often speak of the site as “we” in conversation. “I find it hard to be offline for very long because of the community,” Garcia says. “It’s so hard to not be with them.”

All images via wikiHow.

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Food
Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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